In the past few years, American audiences have seen only a few Swedish films cross the pond and get a stateside release. The vampire drama Let The Right One In was remade into Matt Reeves’ Let Me In, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was given the American treatment by director David Fincher. Safe House director Daniel Espinosa earned critical acclaim with Snabba Cash back in 2010 (retitled Easy Money for the English-speaking crowd), and like these other films from his homeland, a remake is on the way, this time with Zac Efron attached as the lead. But legendary film director/scholar/preservationist/champion Martin Scorsese has taken an interest in Snabba Cash and is presenting it to a wider audience for a brief run this summer, so we have a chance to see what all the hype is about before Hollywood gets rolling on the remake.
The aforementioned hype is mostly deserved. “The Killing” star (and future Robocop) Joel Kinnaman stars here as JW, a poor Swedish business school student who perpetually wears a suit that’s as slick as his hair, trying desperately to appear more affluent than he really is. He plasters pictures of models all over his dorm walls and aspires to move up the social ladder, using his cocaine connections as a taxi driver to infiltrate the ranks of his swanky classmates. JW is tasked to pick up a Chilean man named Jorge, who has just broken out of jail and knows a ton about cocaine, so when an opportunity arises to become the front man for a crime syndicate, the promise of wealth and power is too much for JW to turn down. The competition doesn’t take the emergence of a new player in the coke game lightly, so they send a hitman named Mrado to take care of Jorge, apathetic to the fact that Mrado’s been saddled with the responsibility of raising his young daughter after her mother entered rehab for a drug addiction. In typical fashion, these storylines all overlap to form a warning about the allure of wealth and the lengths that some go to in order to get it.
Kinnaman’s performance is a highlight, giving JW an intelligence, hunger, and willingness to get his hands dirty for a payoff later. But it’s his idealism that ultimately gets the better of him. He naively thinks that the crime syndicate works like the businesses he learns about in school, but when he’s gut-punched by the reality of his situation and realizes he’s gotten in too deep, we really feel for this character’s struggle. Kinnaman is convincing as a member of the elite society and he’s equally believable as an up-and-comer, so it’s easy to see why Hollywood came calling after this film was released. He doesn’t have raw star power quite yet, but he’s got a hell of a lot more personality than Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch, or one of the other actors the system deems worthy of carrying a franchise these days. Matias Varela (Jorge) and Dragomir Mrsic (Mrado) are solid as well, imbuing their characters with a world-weariness that fits the bleak world Espinosa creates here.
The direction is controlled, compelling, and has a sense of immediacy to it that is typical of a drug saga, so Espinosa gets high marks behind the camera. I found myself a bit distracted, though, when comparing the look and feel of this movie to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, another drug-fueled series that features a ton of over-the-shoulder shots, a vivid but dreary underground, and a realistic look at the perils and privileges that lifestyle can provide. Picture a foreign Darren Aronofsky, and you have an admittedly-reductive idea of the stylistic choices on display here. The pacing drags at times, but sporadic surges of violence keep viewers on their toes.
Snabba Cash is not the crime thriller to end all crime thrillers, as some might have you believe. But it’s a well-executed film with a moody, contemplative score, a trio of excellent performances, and a raw look into an intriguing world of drugs that proves that there’s no such thing as easy money. Until next time…